With a long road trip to Santa Rosa ahead of them, the North County Battalion are looking primed and ready to keep their playoff run going strong. In the build up to Saturday night’s knockout clash with Golden Gate Conference champion’s, the Sonoma County Sol, Nate Abaurrea was joined again by Battalion Head Coach Ryan Guy for another edition of our popular “Coach’s Corner” series, discussing the team’s incredible 5-3 win over Coras, the upcoming match against the Sol, and important topics relating to the Battalion culture. Here’s their conversation:
Nate Abaurrea: “Coach, I’ve watched this team for almost four months now. I left training last night certain of one thing: I have never seen this squad look better or more fired up at practice than they did last night.”
Ryan Guy: “I’d have to agree. You gotta love it. These guys have embraced everything about this final stretch. It’s seeping into their veins, Nate, what this game means, and what this club means. That Battalion badge means something to each and every one of these guys. We laid out a philosophy at the beginning of this inaugural season, and philosophies take a while to set in. That philosophy is known now, by everyone, and you can see it embodied in a training session like the one we had last night.”
Nate: “No doubt. There’s a sense of absolute commitment, collectively and individually. Guys were out there at 7 PM. We didn’t all leave until 10:30.”
Ryan: “It’s beautiful to see. And we must remember that these guys are in daily grinds, working 9-5’s, many having to commute and even travel long distances for their jobs. Some of these guys are very young, shaping their futures and taking on new adventures in their lives everyday. Some of these guys have families to take care of, kids to feed. When we think of all these things, and then see the commitment that we’re talking about, it just makes me proud. This team, in the best of ways, is an escape from the daily grind. But these guys are as committed as any group I’ve ever been a part of, and that’s truly amazing.
Every game is a one-off in these playoffs. You only get one shot. You slip up and you’re done. Prep is a huge part of it, and commitment is a huge part of it, because that’s something that you can actually control. Soccer is a game of endless variables, but one thing you can always control is your level of commitment. Every week is a new test, and it gives us so much confidence, seeing that level of commitment from everyone. It’s how you win playoff games. It’s how you win championships.”
Nate: “Let’s head back to last Saturday, and that 5-3 win in the opening round of the playoffs against Coras. It was a roller coaster. What stands out for you, looking back a few days later?”
Ryan: “Look, there were things that were severely lacking in the first half. I wasn’t happy with that performance. But the response that we saw from this group… my goodness. Thankfully we’ve got guys like Nelson Pizarro who can shift momentum in a game the way he did. Thankfully we’ve got a ‘never say die’ attitude from the top down. I was impressed by the resilience the guys showed. They earned that win.”
Nate: “As enthralling as the match itself was, I was also quite enamored with the vibe on the sideline. Seeing Asher Booth, who had far from his best game and was pulled out after forty minutes, backup goalie Dean Meltz, and a host of others sprinting down the touchline to hug Justin Picou after Picou scored the winner from the spot… that spoke volumes about this team.”
Ryan: “You know, Nate, that’s something that’s important. When I originally took this job, I took it with the thought of moments like the one you reference. It didn’t matter if it was our assistant coaches, unused substitutes, or guys that had been pulled off. Everyone was caught up in that moment, because we are all brothers. It’s a familial vibe. That’s why we do this. That’s why we love this game. We put ourselves through the rigors of football for moments like that.”
Nate: “So it’s onto the next one, the next test for the NCB. It’s a rather long road trip, 1100 miles there and back, to Santa Rosa to take on the Sonoma County Sol. How do you feel about the trip, and how do you feel about going up against a team that the Battalion have never seen before?”
Ryan: “I’m excited. It’s the excitement of something new, a dive into unknown waters. Whether they’re 19 or 32 years old, these guys are mature. They know what’s going on. They understand the gravity of this game, and the opportunity they’re being given as athletes.
As far as the opposition, it’s an interesting question. I know a little about their history, and it’s a good history. Though it was seven years ago, they’ve got a national championship to their names. As far as this season goes, we don’t know much about them at all, and it’s the same for them with us. And that can be a blessing. As a coach, I definitely prefer to play the enemy I know. However, with the excitement level, the one-off against the unknown, a game like this one almost excites me more. It forces us to focus purely on ourselves, and be prepared to beat anyone by playing our best soccer.”
Nate: “Talk a little more about the meaning of this game. We don’t want to get carried away, but at the same time, this coming Saturday is a massive day in the young history of this club.”
Ryan: “It’s a culmination, first and foremost, of an idea, an idea that was originally laid out by the man who founded this club, Jason Barbato. That idea has filtered down to the point where we all feel invested, coaches, players, owners, fans, staff, broadcasters… Every aspect of this organization has pushed all the other pieces to get to this point. There’s been an expectation from the beginning. While it is an achievement to be here, it was also an expectation. No one’s been daunted by that expectation, but rather excited by the prospect. We’re not done yet. We’ve still got more to go. We’ve still got more to give.”
Nate: “You had a full run in training last night and looked in top form. You haven’t been fully fit since being injured in late April. Are you fully fit? Is there a chance we could see the return of the player/coach?”
Ryan: “I am fully fit. We’ll leave it at that for now.”
Nate: “Without further ado, let’s get into the ‘3 Keys for Battalion success’ for this Saturday night.”
Ryan: “We’ve gone into great detail with many of these throughout the season, Nate. They’re pretty simple this time around.
- We need consistency. We can’t have one good half. It’s gotta be two. It has to be a full game.
- We need to create, all night. We need to constantly create scoring opportunities.
- We need to be us! We need to be ourselves at all times. We need to show that pride and commitment when it truly counts. We need to place our philosophy into every run, pass, shot, and finish. We are NCB, and they’re can be no mistaking that against the Sol on Saturday night.
Nate: “Any final words to the Battalion supporters before we get on the bus?”
Ryan: “To hear that people are even considering going all the way up to Santa Rosa for this match… it’s incredible. It’s indicative of the present and the future of this club. After literally every game, Nate, our players talk about how grateful they are for the fans. EVERY game. That’s gratitude. That’s a proper relationship between club and supporters, the type of relationship we associate with great teams from around the world. If you make it up to Santa Rosa on Saturday, great. If not, tune in LIVE back in San Diego and scream your head off like you were there. We love you, and appreciate everything you do for us.”
Nate: “Cheers Coach. Let’s head north.”
Ryan: “Time to get on the bus. Cheers Nate.”